Thank you very much.
I'd like to begin by thanking the panel for inviting me here, and also by stating what I believe to be obvious: that aboriginal organizations unequivocally support in principle the repeal of section 67.
The topic I'd like to address briefly is the process engaged in Bill C-44, which basically makes a unilateral amendment to the act and then engages consultation later.
I'd like to address you briefly on the legal point—that is, the point as to whether this is contrary to the principles of reconciliation and the honour of the Crown that have been articulated by the Supreme Court of Canada. It will be my submission that the whole process of amendment and then later consultation is contrary to the basic principles that have been articulated since 1977, when Parliament enacted the Canadian Human Rights Act unilaterally and then deferred this discussion to now, this date, as to how to incorporate the problems associated with the Indian Act and how we're to deal with it.
What has happened in the jurisprudence since 1977 and with the entrenchment of section 35 is that there has been a wholly changed legal landscape, and the movement in the jurisprudence is away from governance under the Indian Act and towards the general principle of reconciliation, which the Supreme Court of Canada has said is at the heart of aboriginal-Crown relations.
In terms of reconciliation, what is being reconciled is the pre-existence of aboriginal societies, including their legal systems and their laws, with the assertion of crown sovereignty. There's been a general recognition in the courts at both the lower and the higher levels that the assertion of crown sovereignty didn't extinguish the sovereignty of aboriginal people, so the reconciliation involves both the recognition of the aboriginal rights of governance and subsequently, with the recognition, the reconciliation of them. Corresponding duties have arisen on the Crown; they have been articulated by the Supreme Court of Canada, most notably in the Haida case, in order to achieve reconciliation. The duty of germane interest to your panel is the duty of consultation about accommodation.
I'd like to briefly address some of the major elements of the duty, because it does impact greatly on the issues of consultation engaged in this case.
The leading case is the Haida case, and I want to make it clear that this case didn't arise in the context of amending legislation; it arose in the context of crown conduct, in a situation in which the Crown granted a tree farm licence to a large forestry company up in Haida Gwaii—the Queen Charlotte Islands—to basically engage in a multi-year large-scale logging project on the island, and there had been no consultation with the Haida. The issue was whether, in the absence of proof of title or in the absence of concluding a treaty, the Crown was obligated to consult. In the landmark case in the Supreme Court of Canada, the court held that yes, there was a duty on the Crown. This is the duty that is engaged now; it's a government duty. I'll just go through some of its basic parameters.
The court considered where the duty to consult arises. Well, the duty to consult with aboriginal people, they say, is grounded in the honour of the Crown. It arises from the assertion of crown sovereignty, says the court. It continues into the process of treaty-making in all actions between the Crown and aboriginal people. They say the honour of the Crown is always at stake in its dealings with aboriginal people, but in particular the duty engages—and I'm going to read you what the court said:
But, when precisely does the duty to consult arise? The foundation of the duty in the Crown's honour and the goal of reconciliation suggest that the duty arises when the Crown has knowledge, real or constructive, of the potential existence of the Aboriginal right or title and contemplates conduct that might adversely affect it—
In this case we have an act that is definitely going to affect the governance rights of aboriginal people—not just the band council governance, but also the aboriginal governance rights, which are broader than band council rights. Many band councils, in light of the Indian Act, do exercise both rights that are considered to be more traditional in nature—not arising from delegated authority under the Indian Act—and also rights arising from the delegated authority.
The content of the duty—and it is to this point we say this committee must pay attention--is in proportion to the assessment of the strength of the case and the seriousness of the potentially adverse effect on the right or title claimed.
In all cases, the honour of the Crown requires the Crown to act in good faith to provide meaningful consultation appropriate to the circumstances. So we have in this instance the courts signalling a movement now away from the Indian Act and a movement toward reconciliation being the goal, with the duty to consult being part and parcel of how that reconciliation will occur. The court describes elements of the duty as including an obligation to consult as early as possible in the process of decision-making, providing all relevant information to the aboriginal people, flexibility and willingness to consider alternatives or make changes to its proposed action based on information obtained through consultation, and not promoting but listening with an open mind.
So applied to this legislative amendment you have Parliament being very aware of the potential existence of governance rights and that the constitutional recognition and affirmation of aboriginal rights is meant to reconcile indigenous and Canadian legal systems. Parliament is considering amending legislation in such a way that there is a potential to interfere with these governance rights. Prior to actually passing Bill C-44 and amending the act, the honour of the Crown suggests that Parliament should engage with first nations to determine what the potential effects are and to discuss options for avoiding or mitigating infringements and for reconciliation. Consultation should consider whether the process in the Canadian Human Rights Act is the right one for human rights complaints against a band council or whether a different indigenous institution, perhaps different legislation, might be more appropriate.
Before finishing on this, I'd like to also stress the fact that in 1977 there was a political commitment made by the federal Crown to first nations leaders that there would be consultation that would precede the application of the act, and that commitment directly engages the honour of the Crown.
We turn to the question, then, of who should be consulted. I know there's been some consultation about this, but because first nations across the country are organized according to different levels and types of power and authority, many have their own means of dealing with human rights issues, and all are affected by the operational framework of the Indian Act. So because of the very strong interference and the great impact, which I'm sure this committee has heard about, expressed by aboriginal people across the country as to what could happen and will happen, once human rights complaints are able to be adjudicated in respect of band councils in particular, there will be a great impact on aboriginal communities. So it suggests, because of the test, that merely canvassing the views of aboriginal organizations is not going to meet the test of consultation for all the aboriginal governments and governance issues that will be affected by this bill.
I wanted to briefly touch upon the Corbiere case, which was an analogous kind of situation in the sense that subsection 77(1) of the Indian Act, which excluded off-reserve members of Indian bands from the right to vote in band decisions, was held by the court to be inconsistent with subsection 15(1) of the charter. So it raised the question of how we are going to amend subsection 77(1), which was unconstitutional, in light of the fact that band members who lived off-reserve would be affected, or could be affected, by the regulations that needed to now get brought into being in order to repair the constitutional problem caused by the Corbiere case.
What happened in that case was that having concluded that there was a violation of the Constitution, the court suspended the implementation of the decision for 18 months in order to allow consultation with on-reserve and off-reserve band members before amending the legislation. Canada then engaged in a two-stage consultation process, first with aboriginal organizations, and during that time Canada funded the four national aboriginal groups to consult with their membership. So there was a mandate given by the membership to the organizations to represent their views, and INAC regional offices were funded as well, so there could be meetings and workshops.
Then there were reports. After about nine months of consultation in the first stage, draft amendments to the regulations were released. These were the subject of consultation. Then there was further communication with the chiefs and councils who were invited to comment on the draft regulations. And after input was received, the regulations were revised. Then after the regulations came into force, a second stage of consultation took place. It involved broader discussions on the Indian Act, governance, and accountability.
We think the issues involved in repealing or amending section 67 of the Canadian Human Rights Act are similar to those in Corbiere. In Corbiere, there were important difficulties and costs associated with trying to set up a system that balanced on- and off-reserve membership. Similarly, the cost of setting up systems and changing current systems to bring them into compliance with the Canadian Human Rights Act could be large, and defending challenges would be expensive.
I'd like to spend the last few minutes of my discussion to suggest that the real initiative, right now, in light of the jurisprudence, needs to include, in our view, not just a discussion focusing on the narrow issue of whether and how the Canadian Human Rights Act should apply to band councils making decisions under the Indian Act. To keep current with the jurisprudence and also current with the issues that are actually fully engaged by the negotiation of land claims agreements, self-government agreements, and the evolving jurisprudence that is forcing the recognition of pre-existing legal systems by the legal system of the Crown, what is required is a broader discussion on how to move away from the Indian Act towards aboriginal governance within the Canadian federation based on the recognition of the inherent right of aboriginal people to govern themselves.
If we simply focus on the Indian Act and on making the changes that are engaged there, there are innumerable problems with the Indian Act and innumerable problems in trying to sort out the problems of the Indian Act. But more importantly, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, and others that have been looking at the law and looking at the evolution of how to create reconciliation, have strongly recommended that the impetus for any move to self-government must include a movement away from the Indian Act towards the full potential and realization of aboriginal laws and legal systems and aboriginal institutions that co-exist with those of the Crown in a federation. It would be based on a reconciliation. It would not be based on the unilateral imposition of legislation, especially legislation, as the Indian Act is, that is almost 100 years old and that carries the colonial baggage of requiring, in the legislation, a particular kind of government, and in addition, a particular kind of federal imposition as to how that government, over time, is to become civilized. These are problems that we now know to be problems created by the past but that we are really trying to move away from at this point.
Thank you very much.